On May 6, 2013, Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a social media privacy bill which had been passed by the New Jersey legislature, as previously mentioned here and here. While Gov. Christie explained that he supports the proposed legislation’s key protections – the privacy of job applications and employees – he disagreed with certain aspects of the bill.
The social media privacy bill, as proposed by the state legislature, contained broader protections than any other state’s legislation to date. Specifically, as originally passed, the bill would have forbidden employers from asking employees or applicants whether they maintain personal social media accounts. Gov. Christie found that this particular provision of the bill “paints with too broad a brush” because such questions could reflect an employer’s legitimate interest in ascertaining the technological sophistication of a potential applicant.
Perhaps the most critical provision that Gov. Christie vetoed was the portion that allowed aggrieved individuals to file lawsuits over alleged violations of the bill. Instead, Gov. Christie proposed that aggrieved employees or applicants should report violations to the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, with employers being liable for fines of $1,000 for a first violation and $2,500 for repeat violations.
If adopted in its revised form, the bill would still prohibit employers from requesting a username or password from an employee or applicant for any personal social media accounts. However, the governor’s veto also clarified that (1) the law will not apply to an individual’s social media accounts that are used for business purposes; and (2) employers will not be prohibited from accessing an employee’s or applicant’s social media pages to the extent that they are shared publicly.
The conditional veto allows the New Jersey legislature to reconsider the bill with the governor’s proposed changes. We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress and provide any updates on its status.